In part one, Getting To Know Jameis Winston, the quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses are dissected – on and off the field. Here in part two, Mark Schofield examines the traits that make Jameis Winston ready for the NFL, on the field.
Proven in the Pocket
Jameis Winston is an accomplished passer from the pocket, both out of the shotgun and under center. In Florida State’s system he was tasked with making reads, working through progressions, fitting the football into narrow throwing lanes, and making anticipation throws. His experience in a pro style system makes his transition to an NFL easier to predict than Marcus Mariota’s.
In this first example against the Citadel, Winston stands in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field. FSU has slot formation to the left and pro formation to the right. The Bulldogs respond with Cover 3. The QB reads the weak-side coverage and throws a deep out route along the sideline:
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This is a good example of taking what the defense gives you, as well as an accurate anticipation throw. The inside slot receiver runs a seam route occupying the deep cornerback. This leaves the outside linebacker trying – in vain – to get underneath the deep route. He cannot, because of the timing and anticipation from Winston who makes his throw as the receiver begins his cut and delivers the ball perfectly along the sideline.
Working the Field
Winston also shows the ability to influence coverage with his eyes against North Carolina State. Standing in the shotgun with a running back to his left, Winston has dual slot formations on the field. To the left, Florida State runs a post/wheel combination route with the inside receiver breaking along the sideline on the wheel route, while the outside receiver runs the post. Opposite, the Seminoles run a pivot/crossing route combination, with the inside receiver running the pivot as the outside receiver cuts over the middle:
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On the replay, watch Winston’s helmet. You can see him work from left to right, intentionally staring down the wheel/post combination before progressing to the crossing route on the other side of the field. The quarterback delivers a strong, accurate throw that puts his receiver in position to pick up yardage after the reception.
Against NC State Winston works through his progressions, taking the safer throw. With Winston aligned under center, Florida State has 11 personnel on the field and in a single-back formation, with one receiver split left and trips to the right with tight end Nick O’Leary in a wing alignment. FSU runs a Cover 3 beater play off of play action, with Winston opening to his left and faking the off-tackle run left side. His first read looks to be the single receiver on a deep streak route, but the Wolfpack run Cover 1 using catch-man alignment, so this route is covered:
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Winston pulls down the football and moves to the crossing route. The receiver has beaten the man coverage and is running away from his defender, and Winston delivers a strong and accurate throw for a big play. This is a solid read and decision from Winston.
Handling the Pressure
Florida State earned a late victory over Notre Dame, with Winston a crucial element with a tremendous anticipation throw. The Seminoles face 2nd and goal just outside the 10-yard line, and Winston is in the shotgun with a sole receiver split left and trips to his right. The single receiver runs a slant route on this play as the Irish blitz Winston with Cover 0 in the secondary:
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Winston reads the defense perfectly, because in Cover 0 the middle of the field is wide open and the slant route exploits this coverage. Winston delivers the throw just as the receiver cuts on the diagonal, so the ball arrives before the cornerback has a chance to prevent the completion.
Winston – most times – handles pressure with poise and confidence. On this third-down play from Florida State’s narrow win over Louisville, the defense sends pressure off the edge on Winston’s right:
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With both his right tackle and right guard beaten at the line of scrimmage, Winston is under duress before receivers have gotten off the line. But he deftly slides left, away from the defenders, and gives the play time to develop. Winston then delivers a strong and accurate throw for a big first-down completion.
On this 3rd and 12 play from early in the Rose Bowl, Winston is in the shotgun with tight end trips formation to his left. The outside receiver runs a dig route, a perfect pattern to beat Cover 3. Winston reads the play perfectly and delivers a throw right along the hash marks, the right spot to beat the coverage:
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Unfortunately the pass is dropped. But the quarterback can’t do everything.
Working from Under Center
Unlike the majority of quarterbacks in this draft class, Winston is experienced working from under center, likely speeding up his transition to the NFL game. Professional playbooks require the quarterback to be proficient both at the line and in the shotgun, providing as much versatility as possible.
Looking at his footwork and precision operating from under center begins in Florida State’s season-opener against Oklahoma State. Winston begins at the line with 11 personnel on the field. The quarterback opens left and executes a play-action fake to the running back. After retreating into the pocket, Winston finds the deep crossing route coming from the right:
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With the receiver separated from the corner, Winston drops a perfect throw over the outstretched fingertips of the defender. Almost as impressive as the throw is how the QB climbs the pocket prior to the throw, easing away from pressure off the left edge.
Three Steps, Mister
Many NFL systems build the passing game off the three-, five- and seven-step drops. On this play, Winston is using a three-step drop and the Seminoles have him under center with 11 personnel on the field with tight slot formations on each side of the offense. FSU runs a mirrored pass pattern with each inside receiver running a short out route, while the outside receivers run curl patterns that break to the inside:
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After the snap Winston implements a fluid three-step drop from center, and then gets the football out to the left outside receiver on the curl route. Much like we discussed in our analysis of Mariota, with all things being equal, a quarterback looks to the short-side of the field on mirrored passing plays to take the easier throw.
The slight negative is the football not being released as the quarterback’s third step lands. Winston exhibits a slight hitch before releasing the football just after that third step.
Finally, Winston lines up under center with 11 personnel on the field, with a single receiver split wide to the left and tight end trips to the right. Once more, he opens up to his left to carry out a play-action fake before dropping into the pocket. After completing his drop, Winston stands tall against Oregon’s Cover 2 defense, waiting for the crossing route to enter the soft spot of the coverage. Then, he strikes:
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This is an NFL-level read and throw from Winston.
Ben Roethlisberger. Big and strong with a powerful arm, Winston is similar to the Pittsburgh quarterback in a number of ways on the field. Both can win from the pocket or extend plays with their size, strength, and footwork. Both of these quarterbacks can make every throw asked of them at any level of the field.
Is Jameis Winston ready for the NFL ‒ off the field? The bulk of what Winston gives you on the field is elite for a college quarterback. He is a proven commodity in the passing game with experience under center and in a system based in NFL concepts, requiring three-, five- and seven-step drops, reading through progressions and making difficult throws into tight passing lanes. That alone is enough to warrant the No. 1 overall pick. But, add in the questionable decision-making on-, and off-the-field, and the concerns begin to rise.
I have Marcus Mariota a touch above Winston on my list of quarterbacks in this class. This is not a recent development. If you review the work I did for the Rose Bowl Preview, much of what I have written about these two quarterbacks this week was raised in those pieces: Mariota’s ability to work in progressions juxtaposed with Winston’s decision-making and forcing throws. While Winston likely has a higher floor than Mariota, the Oregon product has a higher ceiling. What you see with Winston is what you get. With Mariota, he is still growing into the style of an NFL quarterback. On film he displays the ability to work through progressions and reads, and to make the anticipation throws into narrow windows. He’s just getting started with that process, and has more room to grow.
Thursday night Tampa Bay will likely select Winston with the first overall pick. This will be a very defensible and logical selection given what Winston can do on the field. If I were making that call, Mariota would be my selection. Mariota is careful with the football and does not turn the ball over in the passing game. His athleticism is a big plus, as he can use his quick feet and speed to escape from the pocket and mask flaws in the protection schemes and along the offensive line.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield knows play action, the free release, spectacular plays and how to throw on Cover 2, Cover 3 and Cover 6.
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